October 14, 2017 at 1:26AM

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My $2,500 Feature Film

Hey guys, I recently completed and released my first feature film. It's a musical adaptation of the classic allegorical novel "The Pilgrim's Progress" that I directed for my church on a budget of around $2,500. I'm the director, cinematographer, and editor. We had a lot of very serious interest from several small Christian distributors but ultimately the church really wanted to just release it for free, so you can watch the entire film on YouTube. It's about 83 minutes long. If you get a chance to watch it, I'd love to know what you think!

Check out the trailer here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISfiC_gY7xY

And watch the full film here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faeen3y7PV0

A few years ago I never in a million years would have guessed that my first feature film would be a family-friendly musical, but all things considered I'm pretty proud of how it turned out. It's far, FAR from perfect, but I think it's safe to say that it's much better than it has any business being. I'm really hoping that it will serve as a good calling card as I work towards trying to secure a modest 6-figure budget for my next film.

Anyway, I'll post some background and general production details in a reply for anyone interested. And of course I'd be more than happy to answer questions that may help anyone else looking to make a no-budget feature or short film!

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Alright, some background and production info on the film:

Before I made Pilgrim's Progress, I'd been studying and practicing filmmaking for four to five years. I'm self-taught. I didn't go to film school or anything, I just kind of picked up a camera and started trying to figure things out through trial an error. When I started working on the film I had directed about 7 narrative shorts, a handful of documentary shorts, and was making an OK living winning video contests and doing the odd freelance gig.

I'd always wanted to make a fairly ambitious no-budget feature to see what I was capable of, but every time I'd write a script with that goal in mind I'd end up falling too in love with it to squander it on a no-budget experiment. I always write my own scripts, but Pilgrim's Progress was adapted from the original novel by our church's Children's minister, and since I was the resident filmmaker in the congregation they asked me if I'd be interested in helping them make it into a film. It was the first time I'd ever directed a narrative project that I didn't write myself, and since it wasn't one of my own passion projects it ended up being a great way to make that no-budget feature I'd always wanted to. I was able to put forth my very best effort without being too resentful when things inevitably didn't turn out perfectly.

Our $2,500 "budget" was mostly spent on food and gas. We also rented a GH4 from ATS Rentals for 6 weeks for around $250 and bought a few hundred dollars worth of props. With a head count in the low-to-mid 200s on any given Sunday, we're not a particularly big church, but we do seem tohave an unusually high concentration of artistic talent, which helped a ton. The lead role of Christian was played by our worship leader, who also wrote the score and mixed and recorded all the songs. His wife (who also plays his wife in the film) served as our production designer. She did a fantastic job of slapping together garbage and thrift-store clothing to make all the costumes and sets. It went a long way towards to giving the film a reasonably believable period aesthetic. All of the actors are volunteers from our church or other local churches. We had a few people with a little bit of stage experience and one or two of the actors had played small roles in short films (mostly my own), but for the most part no one had ever acted before.

The film was shot entirely within about an hour and a half of Medford, Oregon. I was pretty adamant during pre-production that we take advantage of the fact that Oregon actually looks like a fantasy world, so a significant portion of the budget went towards driving around to locations. A lot of the locations are right in town or on the edge of town, and framing the 21st century out of the film ended up dictating a significant portion of my shots. A lot of the time if you tilted the camera just a few inches in any direction or brought the background a bit more into focus you'd see things like cars or streetlights or busy highways. There were a lot of little things like light switches and distant powerlines that we couldn't do much about, but I think we did a decent job at keeping out anything TOO distracting.

I shot roughly 2/3 of the film in 4k on a rented GH4 with lenses I own from my GH2 days (mostly the excellent Voigtlander 25mm f0.95), and the other 1/3 on my own A7S and Rokinon Cinema Lenses. I had the church rent the GH4 because I knew that we'd be shooting very fast and with a lot of non-actors, so the ability to re-frame shots and punch in to close-ups so I could stitch together takes was invaluable. I did stuff like that a lot throughout production. Such extensive re-framing isn't ideal, but the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks here.

We recorded most of the sound on my Rode NTG-2, which we had hooked directly to the camera via a Beachtek DXA-2T. Our "crew" was basically just me, our production designer, and our two main leads. On most days, at least two of those three were on set with me, and whoever wasn't in front of the camera would help me hold a reflector or the mic or do whatever else needed to be done. Occasionally we'd have a kid from the youth group hang out for the day and grip for us. Quite a few times it was just me watching the camera on a tripod while holding a mic in one hand and a reflector in the reflector.

We shot the film on 32 different shoot days from mid-May to early-August of last year. Some days we'd only shoot for three or four hours, other days we'd shoot eighteen plus. On average our days were probably eight to ten hours. After shooting was done we showed a very rough, episodic cut of the film to our Vacation Bible School program last August, then re-convened in October for two solid days to re-shoot the narrator scenes in a way that would make more sense for a cohesive feature film (We're still using the episodic version for the free VBS curriculum we're developing). After that, over the next 6 to 8 months of off-and-on post production, I shot quite a few little inserts and pick-up shots to fill in some gaps and smooth over a few rough patches.

Anyhow, that's probably enough rambling for now. If you have any other questions, ask away! And again, if you get a chance to watch the film I'd love to hear what you think!

October 14, 2017 at 1:40AM, Edited October 14, 1:40AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1125

Just watched the trailer. You should be proud of it. Nice cinematography.
Checking out the full film now.

October 14, 2017 at 2:43AM

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Thanks Ian!

October 14, 2017 at 3:16AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1125

Wow, typically the shoestring budget stuff I see comes off as over acted and too perfectly lit to the point where it looks cheesy/like a soap opera. However I must hand it to you, you did a fantastic job of working within your constraints and making the aesthetic of the film seem natural. Excellent work for what it is...and this is coming form an atheist.

October 14, 2017 at 11:31AM

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Haha, thank you! I hate most Christian films with a passion so to be honest my favorite reviews tend to come from atheists. My favorite review I've ever gotten was when a belligerent atheist friend of mine said something along the lines of, "Damn, that was bad-ass! Never thought I'd say that about a Christian film, lol." after he saw this short film of mine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4H0gJ4TwYc

October 14, 2017 at 8:35PM

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David West
Filmmaker
1125

A great contribution to the NFS boards!

October 14, 2017 at 2:10PM

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this is an interesting picture. keep up the good work. you are well done

October 16, 2017 at 6:37AM, Edited October 16, 6:39AM

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Matthew K. Marcus
essay writer
9

Just watched the trailer - looks great! Thanks for all the detailed info!

October 16, 2017 at 7:17PM

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David Summers
VFX Supervisor/Artist and Filmmaker
261

Thanks for all the good feedback, guys! I've gotta say it's encouraging to see how many positive comments there are considering the fact that I seem to be getting a ton of downvotes, lol.

October 17, 2017 at 1:03AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1125

great job

October 17, 2017 at 5:54PM, Edited October 17, 5:54PM

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Great Trailer bro ! i'm a film composer & it'd be my pleasure if i get a chance to work with you ! film scoring is my passion :)

October 19, 2017 at 8:21AM

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Sohan
Music Composer
1

I haven't checked out the film yet, but right off the bat I've gotta give you props for recognizing the value of good Christian films. Most Christian movies present Christianity in such an obtuse and preachy way that it's always refreshing to see a serious filmmaker who cares about story and about craft making a movie with Christian themes at the center. Keep doing what you're doing, and I'll be sure to check out the movie asap.

October 19, 2017 at 12:40PM

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David Jordan
(Aspiring) Cinematographer
137

Thanks David! You should check out my short film "Liberation." It sounds like you may enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4H0gJ4TwYc

October 21, 2017 at 10:19PM

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David West
Filmmaker
1125

YOu did a great Job on this. Somewhat cheesy but I know the Christian community will embrace it. Really nice work!

October 19, 2017 at 12:40PM

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Wentworth Kelly
Director/DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2123

Thanks Wentworth! There's definitely some cheesiness to it which generally isn't my style, but I think that not being too serious actually helps the film a lot. Had we just tried to make a drama all of it's obvious shortcomings would have been far, far worse. Being sort of self-aware of your own campiness is sometimes the right decision. Hopefully next time I can make a more serious film! :)

October 21, 2017 at 10:17PM, Edited October 21, 10:17PM

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David West
Filmmaker
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